Childhood and Family Background Updated in December 2017

Growing up in His Native Home with a View of Mount Fuji

Satoshi Omura was born on July 12, 1935, as the eldest son of a farming family in Nirasaki-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture. His home was located in a geographical basin where one could look up to Mount Fuji. In the backyard of the house, there were many ruins from the feudal war era.

His father was trusted deeply as a leader in the region, and was well-known for constructing the first simplified water tap in Yamanashi Prefecture. His mother was an elementary school music teacher. One day, little Satoshi was taken to the elementary school where she worked. There, he saw his mother playing the piano. The woman at the piano did not look like his mother at all. She seemed like a lovely lady he had never met. He got so excited that he was running around inside the classroom.

Since his mother had been a primary school teacher, Satoshi’s grandmother handled all the housework. He was strictly disciplined by her "to commit and to help people," and "not to lie." Her principle to help others had left a big impression on Dr. Omura, that he repeatedly recalled her words after he became a researcher.

A family photo with the father at the center. Yawning little Satoshi sits on his mother’s lap (far right)
A family photo with the father at the center. Yawning little Satoshi sits on his mother’s lap (far right)

Getting Educated in Nature

"Satoshi, let's go eel-hunting!" During summertime, his father would often call out to go catch freshwater eel in the Fujikawa River. Illuminating the surface of the river with a lantern, one would find the eel lurking in the bottom of the river and quickly stab it with a harpoon. Satoshi would hold the lantern to get a better view of the river surface or would carry the fish basket which contained the night’s catch. Grilled eel was a very tasty summer treat. Note: Grilled eel (unagi) in sweet soy sauce is considered a nutritious summer specialty in Japan which provides stamina.

At such times, Satoshi’s father would narrate the dramatic life of eels. Coming down from the river, they would swim out to the Pacific Ocean to lay eggs. And newborn baby eels grow and come back to the same river. After understanding the magnificent life cycle of an eel traveling between river and ocean, Satoshi longed for the distant ocean he had never seen. Note:Yamanashi Prefecture, where Satoshi grew up is one of the few Japanese prefectures without beaches.

Satoshi had also helped the family rice fields since he started elementary school. Whenever busy seasons like rice planting or harvesting arrived, he would be absent from school to help on the fields.

A family photo - second from left is little Satoshi
A family photo - second from left is little Satoshi

Learning Together with Evacuated Children from Tokyo

In April 1941, Satoshi enrolled in Kamiyama Village National School. On December 8th of the same year, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii which led to the war in the Pacific. Wartime began…

At first, Japanese people were elated by the victorious mood, but the course of war sloped soon, and urban areas got raided by US military aircrafts. Due to the danger of losing one’s life in the city air raid, elementary and junior high school pupils sought refuge and evacuated to the countryside.

There were many pupils in Satoshi’s village who escaped Tokyo. In 1945, the final year of World War II, Satoshi was in the fifth grade of elementary school, and the number of classmates had doubled to reach sixty.

In the Omura household, there was no shortage of food due to the family rice fields. At that time, school children brought lunch boxes to school every day. His mother mixed potatoes or wheat into Satoshi’s portion of rice so that it would resemble the lunch boxes of other children who evacuated from the city. Note:During food shortage, eating plain rice was considered extravagant.

Every day, visitors from Tokyo came to the Omura house to buy food. During wartime, people were not allowed to learn English in Japan. Because Japan was at war with the US and the UK, the government officially banned learning the enemy’s tongue.
However, Satoshi’s father told his children to specifically study English among all other subjects. Under such circumstances, there were no English teaching materials, nor textbooks. Whenever Satoshi’s father found someone from Tokyo who could speak English, he brought rice to their house in place of tuition, and asked them to teach English to his children. When Satoshi grew up to be an adult struggling with English, he often recalled his father’s foresight in awe.

The house Satoshi grew up in
The house Satoshi grew up in

Strict Education for the First Son

Satoshi’s father raised his son strictly, because the first son was going to inherit the family property. When Satoshi put his hands in his trouser pockets during a freezing winter morning, his father would scold loudly for bad posture. Whenever Satoshi came home sobbing and whimpering after losing a fight with senior pupils, his father would not let him into the house. On the other hand, his father would teach him to “never bully others,” and to “always keep one’s promises.” He did not pressure his son to study, but had often assigned him chores.

Helping on the field from early morning until school time was nothing special. However, if Satoshi expressed his wish to study, his father would give him breaks. By taking this into advantage, Satoshi had requested his father for study time only to escape rigorous chores.

When Satoshi was in junior high school, he had found an unfamiliar cardboard box in the house. It contained more than thirty “Lecture Notes.” They were a series of textbooks and notebooks his father used during his long distance learning courses. During his busy day as a farm keeper, Satoshi’s father had eagerly found time for study. When Satoshi discovered this, he was moved immensely and was ashamed of playing instead of studying.

When Satoshi was still in elementary school, he and his father traveled to a neighboring village to meet a relative. Together, they brought along a horse. “Satoshi, I got invited to drink sake, so why don’t you leave now and go back home on the horse by yourself?” suggested his father. During the 3 kilometer horseback ride, Satoshi had completely fallen asleep. When he woke up, he found himself in the family barn. The horse had walked into the barn by itself and loyally waited there for Satoshi to wake up. Note: sake-rice wine

Satoshi’s father did not talk a lot, but whenever they went to the rice or vegetable field, or to the mountain, he taught essential farming techniques and knowledge in detail. By the time Satoshi entered junior high school, he had mastered how to tie a large bale of rice onto a saddle which surprised his neighbors.

Sometimes young Satoshi would go to the mountains with his father to plant trees. “These trees will not grow big enough to be cut, but they will be useful when you grow up. The trees we are cutting now are a blessing from our ancestors who planted them generations ago,” Satoshi’s father would narrate earnestly.

Looking back on how he helped with the rice fields, Satoshi could understand that those days had given him a chance to experience and observe nature in such a fertile environment. Later on, he also helped with sericulture which became a family business. He had the opportunity to observe the hatched worm molt into a pupa and then into a moth. Furthermore, he often helped with making compost. In his boyhood, Satoshi nurtured strong interest in animals, plants, and natural phenomena from real experiences that could not be learnt from textbooks.